At an early age it was my life decision never to get pregnant. The gynies write down “null partum” on my chart. They didn’t believe I haven’t at least had an abortion. I had an absolute rule that I would not consort with a man who wasn’t sterile. There weren’t many of them and they were older. My actual husband was twice my age. There was plenty of canoodling in that consortium and in fact he had quite a colorful reputation.
The reason I didn’t have children were:
a) I wanted to be a free spirit who didn’t have to always give up my own goals in order to feed and house children;
b) I never found a man who would or could dependably and healthily help raise children — many of them wanted to BE children.
c) My extended family (cousins and sibs) dropped the family gatherings and the sense of connection.
d) As far as I could understand, World War never ended — it just moved around and made different groups into refugees. Walk for miles across barren lands carrying a starving child? No. And don't tell me it can't happen here. Ask an Indian.
Trail of Tears
e) I was physically terrified of pregnancy and childbirth which seemed to me like a form of cancer. The prospect of a larval parasite growing inside me was quite accurately depicted in the “Alien” movies.
f) In my day (b 1939) out-of-wedlock pregnancy was a social disaster — not unlike a social death sentence.
g) Marriage was everything (very much entwined with pregnancy) and my mother's worst fear for me was her worst curse: “no one will ever marry you.” It was the taunt against her as a young woman (she married at thirty) and then converted to teasing predictions that her husband would leave her. This was totally unjustified.
h) I have discovered that men will try to attach to me for reasons other than sex and if they are turned away, they become vengeful, not because of jealousy but because of need.
h) My social skills stink. I’m always reacting as though I were in some other century, some other country, some other part of town. Some people thought I was crazy and I was determined not to pass it on.
i) I don’t fit with women. Maybe one or two. My political and sentimental patterns are so different they seem hostile.
i) If I had a child, it would have such an intense grip on my heart that I would kill to protect it and give my own life to save it. Attachment to cats or maybe very close friends via email is about as much as I can handle, but the people closest to me are male.
The situation on my father’s side was a little different from that on my mother’s side. Both sides were country people, but my grandfather was well-educated in Scotland and my grandmother taught until she married and homesteaded in South Dakota. (Brulé Sioux country: Faulkton, established after the Sioux were moved to Rosebud.) Her first infant was premature because she rode the wagon to town late in pregnancy. He lived 17 days. Her sister ran off with an improvident man because she was pregnant by accident. She died in childbirth.
Beulah, my grandmother, was never hearty and in that inland part of the continent before iodized salt, had health troubles that developed into goiter and pushed the family to relocate to Portland, OR, where the food was often from the sea. I think she was carrying endocrine flaws, possibly at the level of the epigenome. She was very strict and a WCTU member because of her brother’s alcoholism. But no one on that side is religious, just very conscious of propriety.
On my mother’s side the confusions were emotional and connected directly to class, wealth and success. The siblings married another rural family stream that followed those principles regardless of sin, law and relationships. But it was as though my father thought subsistence was the only level of prosperity that was safe. He just never was ambitious and neither were my brothers. My mother compensated.
All of this affected my understanding of family, marriage and children. I never saw children as unconnected to those forces or as unconnected to other life on the planet. To me a baby is not an object, not a doll. But a doll, even a paper doll, can in my imagination become a Pinocchio, a Velveteen Rabbit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_m054tLKvs I worry about them. Some of them (yeah, the Pinocchios) don’t like that.
My father’s education was at the University of Manitoba where his roommate was part of the “Green Revolution”, improved crops that they hoped would end famine, but it didn’t. If there was more food, the people on the edge had more children, because children were a form of wealth and insurance. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of overpopulation and it's tense relationship to grain.
I didn’t escape other people’s children, most directly my step-daughter’s children, whose mother’s early death of cancer left them traumatized and confused in the care of their biological father who had remarried a woman with many children. It was a freeforall. They sought love where they could in many different forms, mostly alcohol and sex, but also in achievement.
Bob had never raised his own children (I was a third wife) and was unreal about his grandchildren. His mother, their great-grandmother or “Little Grandma”, had never grown up emotionally and did not help, though she mimed being the fond grandmother. In the end she wanted an orderly prosperous life with one Boston Bull terrier and the pretty daughter of her other son. It was not narcissism so much as theatre, and children never follow the script.
The place that would have been occupied by babies of my own genome was taken up by animal children. My arms and pillow were often occupied by pups and kits, but they were transient, only needing months to grow up and leave. If you put a human baby in my arms, my emotional reaction is so strong that I turn red and begin to sweat, heart pounding.
So babies are to me something like bombs, carrying demands and consequences that are nearly impossible to meet. I think that to my mother her babies were like that except that she managed to give me what she had most wanted: to finish her college degree and to have a proper wedding. I didn’t much care about them except as means to a life of my own, but even then I had to take refuge with her again a few times. By that time my father, who had a closed skull concussion in 1948, was dead, but my youngest brother had also come home with brain damage and so the pattern repeated.
I’m glad I never had children. The brother who had hit his head so hard turned out to have an excellent healthy daughter whom I know now. When it is time, which is years away, she will be the one to have my body cremated and my household dispersed and she is capable of doing that. I’m grateful.
If one has no children of one’s own, there are plenty of other children who are dying literally for lack of family. Some of them are inventing new forms, maybe a webwork of street kids or households of criminalized kids or kids raised in care. Because I am atypical and “normal” life is a mystery to me, I am sympathetic to the ornery, fragile, medically problematic, temperamentally volcanic, and fantasist kids. They’re a little like those animals I raised.
The ghastly part is that the bobcats and foxes I had cuddled did not have the reflexes they ought to have been taught and were murdered, often by human kids. The same thing sometimes happens to atypical kids for something like the same reasons, but the murderers are usually grown men, power-cravers whose own families are not enough. They’re hard on pets, too. If I knew someone had hurt a baby of mine, I would . . . It would not end well.